President Obama's influence on the Trayvon Martin case as the trial of George Zimmerman winds to a close in Florida is at issue this week, with claims emerging that the Department Of Justice (DOJ) was deployed to precipitate civil unrest in the wake of the teen's shooting death last year.
The Obama administration's involvement in the Trayvon controversy seems to stem from a single statement made by the President last year. These words, in a vacuum, seem pretty benign -- but many feel that they somehow set the case on its rocky course back in 2012.
In March of last year, a reporter directly asked President Obama about what was, at the time, a case without an arrest. George Zimmerman was free, and many were calling for a second investigation into Trayvon Martin's death.
The reporter said:
"Mr. President, may I ask you about this current case in Florida, very controversial, allegations of lingering racism within our society -- the so-called do not -- I'm sorry -- Stand Your Ground law and the justice in that? Can you comment on the Trayvon Martin case, sir?"
What Obama said then has increasingly been at issue lately, as detractors say it somehow directed the case -- he began:
"Well, I'm the head of the executive branch, and the Attorney General reports to me so I've got to be careful about my statements to make sure that we're not impairing any investigation that's taking place right now."
... my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened. But obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.He concluded:
"And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together -- federal, state and local -- to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened... I'm glad that not only is the Justice Department looking into it, I understand now that the governor of the state of Florida has formed a task force to investigate what's taking place. I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means that examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident."
It's not unusual for a president to comment upon a high-profile case -- President Clinton remarked on the OJ verdict back in 1997. But Obama's Trayvon comments that single time seem to have given an impression of tacit "race baiting," as Twitter and the conservative blogosphere this week indicates.
Breitbart's Lee Stranahan has been reporting on the alleged DOJ Trayvon rallies, saying that the New Black Panther Party confirms no one from the DOJ was in contact with the organization at all as rallies occurred across the country to demand an investigation.
Stranahan refers back to the ongoing research of conservative group Judicial Watch, and their claims that the DOJ had been "facilitating racially charged marches, rallies, and protests against George Zimmerman." It's difficult to parse whether these groups feel that Obama's DOJ was too involved or not involved enough in Trayvon rallies, "riots," and protests.
ThinkProgress took a progressive look at the controversy, reporting:
"Judicial Watch lists documents showing standard travel expenses for Community Relations Service staff deployed to Sanford, Florida to prevent racial tensions from escalating into violence. Though a 2012 Orlando Sentinel article described the role Community Relations Service played as "secretive," their work in Sanford, Florida was innocuous. DOJ sent staff at the height of community tensions over police mishandling of the case, when large-scale protests demanded justice for Martin. The same article described how DOJ staff simply taught civil rights organizers how to peacefully manage large crowds and ensured the safety for people expressing their First Amendment rights. Because of the DOJ, a Church pastor said 'we felt protected.' "
Right wing watch group Media Matters was even harsher, deeming the claims an outright and deliberate fabrication spun from copious threads of racial animosity and racist assumptions, saying:
Pointing to a report that confirmed the Department of Justice's Community Relations Service unit (CRS) had been dispatched last year to Sanford Florida, the scene of the Martin killing, most of the right-wing noise machine trumpeted the revelation as proof that Obama's Department of Justice was guilty of staging "anti-Zimmerman" rallies... All of that, of course, was completely false.Whatever the Obama DOJ did regarding the initial Trayvon rallies and outcry, it seems the issue is self-perpetuating. Regardless of the outcome, it seems the people have already decided on both sides of the aisle how this story will play out.
Do you think Obama's Trayvon rallies response influenced the case, or was the outcry there already?